(Script of talk given by Liz Newman to the Group at its Meeting on 10th May 2010)
The subject of tonight’s talk is the number of villages and hamlets in the local area which were depopulated in rhe medieval period and turned over to sheep pastures and, in some instances, replaced by a country house set in parkland. Before we start, I should like to take you on an imaginary journey. From Warmington, let’s drive along Camp Lane, noticing the shrunken settlement of Arlescote, below on our right. We are following the boundary between the parishes of Warmington and Ratley with Upton, from ancient times included in Ratley parish. Driving through Edgehill we reach the T-junction with the parkland of Upton House straight ahead. In the 13c. there were seven men holding land in the village of Upton. One was called John de Sokerswelle. If we now turn right, Sugarswell Farm, off to the left, marks the site of another medieval settlement, but we’ll carry on down Sunrising Hill. Two deserted settlements lie to our right, first Westcote and a mile further on, close to the first cross roads, Hardwick. These were both small villages within the extensive parish of Tysoe.
We will turn left and drive through Tysoe. Beyond Tysoe lie Compton Wynyates, where 26 households lived in the 13c., and Chelmscote, a hamlet of Brailes but big enough to have had its own chapel.
Returning to Warmington, let’s drive NW up the B4100. After a few miles we reach the parish of Burton Dassett – aptly described by Dugdale as “a parish somewhat spacious”. That part of the parish which lies to our left has been recolonised by an army camp. Until WW2, there were three isolated farms, Owlington, Marlborough and Frog Hall, but in the 13c. the Knights Templar of Balsall had eleven villein tenants working this land. On our right the important market town of Chipping Dassett has disappeared.
Travelling further north, over to our right, midway between Knightcote and Bishop’s Itchington, stood Nether Itchington – gone and its parish church demolished by the 1640s. Bishop’s Itchington was to become the main settlement in that parish. Another deserted place, one of the twin settlements of Moreton Morrell lies over to our left. Next on our road lies the parish of Chesterton with Kingston, again an extensive parish. There were five settlements in the early medieval period, but now only a few scattered farms.
Returning to Warmington and striking out through Mollington, turn north up the Banbury-Southam road. Soon the emptiness of the countryside is particularly marked. Over to the right is the site of Clattercote village, cleared away at an early date in the 12c. to make room for Clattercote Priory – today a farmhouse and a few modern cottages. Continuing north, the present-day village of Wormleighton lies to our right on high ground, with an extensive deserted village dropping down the side of the hill beyond the church. As we continue north along the main road, the deserted settlements of Watergall and Chapel Ascote are on our left, while on our right are Wills Pastures, Upper and Lower Radbourne and Hodnell.
The family who owned all theses depopulated places by early Tudor times were the Spencers – not necessarily the depopulators but a family which was among the most successful of a new race of graziers. The family owned no fewer than fourteen contiguous parishes here in Warwickshire, as well as many in Northamptonshire. They made their main home at Althorp, one of the three great houses of that county, built on a DMV and built too upon their wealth derived from grazing sheep and cattle. The Spencers bought Althorp in 1508 and by 1547 were grazing 1200 sheep on that estate alone.
Why were settlements depopulated in the medieval period? Over one third of all the settlements in Kineton Hundred – ten main settlements and seventeen smaller secondary ones were lost. The deserted (and contracted) settlements of Warwickshire lay mostly in the corn-growing Feldon, the area south of the River Avon. And corn growing was labour intensive. With the Black Death of 1348/49, and the recurrent plagues of the following decades, labour was in short supply and was no longer prepared, or able, to cultivate land intensively.